I make no apologies for this long post. You don’t have to read it, so move on...
"All those people who are worried about meeting a dog on the Commons should consider what it will be like to meet a two ton highland cow face to face. It won’t be on a lead and there will be no owner to call it away. It’s faeces will also be a much larger problem in every sense of the word, especially as they can transmit E-coli."
I think we need to elevate the level of debate here. I've worked with cows and horses and have learnt to show respect to both. I have owned and looked after dogs and no dog ever, that I did not feel I could recall or control, was ever allowed off the lead in public spaces. Cruel? No. The dogs for which I was responsible learned control, accordingly were happy and I, benefitting from this arrangement, knew I could trust them implicitly. So they were let of the lead. Often.
But is it so for the dozens of wayward dogs I see on the Common whose owners shout and scream after their dogs and wonder why the dog ignores them? Well... their shouting and screaming was ignored long ago when they lost (or never gained) control. And how often do I hear owners scolding their dogs not to leap up, or not to do this or do that as if suddenly, by evolution of unparalleled speed, their dog has acquired the gift of language or reason. We are not taken in. We know these people have absolutely no control and the pretence is transparent. I do, however, feel sorry for the vast majority of dog owners who enjoy our Common alongside the most perfectly controlled and happy dogs who end up being “tarred with the same brush”. Well done all those who are responsible owners!
People want to enjoy the Common as a quiet place, a time to get away from the rush, panic and deadlines of contemporary living. People want to enjoy it for the exercise it gives, for the fresh air. They do not deserve other people’s uncontrolled dogs inflicted on them. If you don’t like this view then maybe you are in denial? It is utterly vacuous to bring into comparison the notion that cows will not be on a lead or have no owner to call it away. By the same argument do we close off thousands of public footpaths passing through farmland where cows, bullocks and bulls roam freely? Are you not being just a tad alarmist?
Now to transmissible diseases. Tell my why you think the E. Coli in cow faeces is worse than the E. Coli in dog faeces. Which strain of E. Coli do you have in mind? Presumably, since you do not mention it, you have no objection at all to the other transmissible diseases in dog faeces such as Parvo Virus (one of the deadliest diseases in the dog population, particularly among puppies). Or how about whipworms (blood suckers, tunnelling into the wall of the intestine with vomiting, diarrhoea and weight loss as common symptoms). Or how about hookworms, roundworms, Giardia and Cocciia? Not convinced? Then let’s throw in Campylobacter or how about Salmonella? Bah! Mere nothings! Or how about cryptosporidium or Toxocariasis? Hmmm.....
Or do I try to defeat by assumption? If so, my apologies.
Does it not for one moment cross your mind that there is a thing called diversity? That different habitats each support and sustain a whole range of different species? Perhaps as a tree lover you don’t care about diversity and care only about trees – or do I read too much into your name?
Please, this is NOT an argument about dogs, it is about our environment, the quality and diversity of our environment and our duty of care to a wider range of species and not just those that like woodland. You might not like the view that the bracken and the trees threaten other species but the facts are there for all to see. How much of the view across our landscape is now hidden by trees where formerly as youngsters we were able to enjoy those views? How much of our countryside is gradually being swamped particularly by birch and by bracken? And do these species know when to stop? They do not. They advance because they have the built-in advantage over more delicate species. Eventually, without management, our Common will become woodland populated dominantly by birch, bramble and bracken. The distant views for us to enjoy will be lost. The grass and heath land habitats needed by many species will be lost. We will all be losers unless we intervene.
The debate is and ought to be about how we intervene. Or do we do nothing as the “Wadsley self-willed land” dreamers believe we should? Google it if you need to.
You might be led to believe that I do not believe in nature taking its course or that I dislike trees intensely. Actually I don’t. We really do need land left to its own devices; we really do need more trees and more carbon-sinking species than at any other recent time. But has anyone ever stopped to consider what is appropriate for the scale of wilderness, what is appropriate for genuine woodland might not be appropriate for our tiny little 0.4 sq km of Common?
We enjoy a legacy and diversity that will change, that has changed. It was not so long ago there were hardly any trees on the Common. Photos taken just after the turn of the last century prove this. Fact. The Ordnance Survey placed the trig point on Loxley Edge because it could be seen for miles around. There were then no trees to obscure it. Fact.
The mining for ganister and coal on the Common, the use of the Common as a resource for fuel left the Common denuded of trees. Succession led to grass and heather and bilberry. Hot on the heels of those has been bracken, bramble and birch. Left unchecked they will strangulate and dominate the landscape.
It’s a decision to make isn’t it? Restore the Common to a pre-industrialised, pre-enclosure era and let it be covered by whatever will grow. Or restore it to the bleak, scraped soil of the early 1900’s when the soil became acidic, having lost the nutrients from leaf fall. Or restore it to the grassland and heath land it became during the 20th century. Or do we... and this is the new thing, this is the exciting thing, manage it? Accept that humans can work with nature and not always exploit it. Accept that we are part of nature and can manage a tiny area of a legacy for the enjoyment of all the people of Sheffield.
Now I vote in favour of balance and diversity. I think the slopes and flanks can and should enjoy the natural succession of birch. If bracken comes with this then... OK, I will have to accept that too even though it harbours the ticks that transmit Lyme disease. Equally I think the upper reaches of the Common can be maintained as a different habitat; open, grass, heather and bilberry and the flowers also that thrive in that environment. After all those flowers just might help our declining bee population. If cleared of tree and bracken the upper reaches will also yield the most wonderful views to the distant hills, towards Sheffield and beyond. Won’t then we have the very best of both worlds? Won’t we have diversity? Won’t then we be able to look back and think we managed a good balance?
The question is then: How do we do this? The tree huggers will bleat and complain and, if they win, we will end up with a monoculture of birch. So if not cattle, just how should we achieve the very best diversity? That is where the debate should be.
The next question is: how many of us will get up there and volunteer to help clear the bracken and the birch consistently year-on-year? Will the cattle do this for us? I honestly don’t know, but please don’t let this important debate descend to measuring the relative sizes of the droppings of herbivores v. carnivores.